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Remembering Fr George Garrelts

Comments made by Jim Jernberg at the memorial service for Fr. George Garrelts held at St. Frances Cabrini Church on September 4, 2002

We are here tonight not only in honor of George Garrelts, but BECAUSE of George Garrelts.  Until George arrived in late Spring of 1963 to be Pastor of Cabrini while continuing to serve as Director of the Newman Center, Cabrini's survival was at risk.  The University was buying up housing within the parish boundaries for expansion of the Health Sciences  - and - the imminent arrival of the Interstate would soon cut the heart of the residential area of the parish in two.  The prospect of the ultimate closing of Cabrini  was pretty high.  But - it didn't happen.  We are still here.  Why?  Who do we thank?


 George came here in 1963.  He combined his own charismatic dominating leadership with the "opening of the windows of the Church" guidelines provided by the Council of Vatican II to transform Cabrini from a seriously declining territorial parish into a vibrant metropolitan based intentional worshipping community.

 He did it by being an innovator.  He was the first to implement the guidelines of Vatican II in worship, sacraments, governance and relative roles of clergy and laity.  These changes happened at Cabrini first. 


  •   turned the altar around and placed it in the center of the worship space
  •   replaced traditional pews with movable chairs
  •   introduced the sharing of bread and wine by all members of the community
  •   introduced communal penance
  •  introduced new forms of music to the liturgy (Cyril Paul at Newman, Janet and Charles Williams, Larry Dittberner and Carol Cannon at Cabrini)
  •  encouraged more power to the laity.  From the outset (1963) he created an Advisory Council and later facilitated the creation of a Consitution Committee and which resulted in the first elected council in the archdiocese
  •  advocated the professionalization of the parish priest - saying priests should not have to "live over the store".  It took Tom Garvey to finally implement off campus housing for the pastor
  •  developed a "theology" of giving - people should give money - a lot of money - directly and at offertory -  Alternative forms of fund raising were to be abolished.  Events in the parish were to be social- community building not for the purpose of raising money. 

The combination of these and other innovative acts attracted the attention of the New York Times and Commonweal magazine during the middle and latter 1960s.  Cabrini was often cited along with the church of Holland as the leaders in implementing Vatican II.  

People came from all over the metropolitan area to witness, be a part of, and join this vibrant place.  It was once speculated that parish members reflected over 50 ZIP codes.

The parish boundaries encompassed only ZIP code 55414.  Earlier today I reviewed Cabrini's most updated directory.  Of the 328 households listed, only 34 bear the ZIP code 55414.  Ninety percent of the households bear other ZIP codes.  Cabrini members now reflect 60 different ZIP codes. 

George Garrelts, along with Pope John XXIII and the Vatican II Council saved Cabrini 40 years ago, transformed us into an innovative metropolitan worshipping community and we remain that way today.  WE are George Garrelt's legacy.   So much of what we do today at Cabrini can be traced to the vision and creativity of George Garrelts. 

George left Cabrini (and Newman) in late August 1969.  He was awarded a Danforth Fellowship to study at Syracuse University.  On his last day at Cabrini,  Janet, Charles and Larry chose as the recessional song "Send Your Servant Down the Road".  It was apt then, and it remains the path we follow to this day. 

 He was a towering giant, physically and intellectually.  He brought life and excitement to this community and motivated us.